Las Vegas is coming to the NHL. The announcement is a mere formality at this point. So for established teams like the Kings, the question now is which players to protect from the expansion Black Knights in the expansion draft that will follow next season.
According to Chris Johnston of Sportsnet, every team will have to expose at least 2 forwards and 1 defenseman who played 40 games the previous season or 70 over the previous two. In terms of who may be protected, teams have two options; they can either protect 7 forwards, 3 defensemen, and a goalie or 8 skaters and 1 goalie. Teams must protect any player who has a no-movement clause extending beyond July 1, 2017. And no player with 2 or fewer years as a professional can be selected by Vegas so they needn't be protected (so prospects like Kempe are safe).
So with that in mind, who on the current roster should the Kings protect in next year's expansion draft? Check out my thoughts after the jump!
According to General Fanager, the Kings have the following players under contract beyond the 2017 season:
Anze Kopitar (with a no-move clause through 2019-20), Dustin Brown, Jeff Carter, Marian Gaborik, Vincent Lecavalier (though he is still expected to retire this summer), Kyle Clifford, Jordan Nolan
Drew Doughty, Jake Muzzin, Alec Martinez, Matt Greene, Brayden McNabb
Free Agents Likely to Return (Who Will Likely Meet the Games Played Requirement)
Tyler Toffoli, Dwight King, Tanner Pearson, Nick Shore, Nick Dowd, Andy Andreoff, Kevin Gravel, Derek Forbort
Yes, I am in fact assuming that Milan Lucic is signing elsewhere three weeks three weeks from now.
The Kings are also likely to acquire at least one player this summer, whether a forward or defenseman, who would require protection.
To begin, I will cull this list down to the players the Kings should initially protect:
Kopitar (F), Carter (F), Clifford (F), Doughty (D), Muzzin (D), Martinez (D), Toffoli (F), King (F), Pearson (F), Quick (G), and the big time UFA they sign this summer (F/D/both/?)
With the identity of this summer's UFA signing as of yet unknown, that is either 7 or 8 forwards, but either way I think we're safe as I will explain. First let me get out of the way that the Kings will have exposed Brown, Gaborik, and McNabb, thus meeting the criteria that at least 2 forwards and a defenseman with the requisite games played the last two seasons are not protected. That of course assumes that Gaborik is still with the Kings a year from now, a large supposition since there is also a great likelihood Lombardi will trade him at the draft to open up some cap space. Even if Gaborik is gone, Nolan would still meet the requirement as he played 52 games in 2015-16.
My protected group then includes:
Kopitar, Carter, Toffoli, Pearson, King, Clifford, UFA (?)
Doughty, Muzzin, Martinez, UFA (?)
If the UFA the Kings sign this summer and want to protect is a forward, they go the 7 forwards, 3 d-men, and 1 goalie route. (Kopitar, Carter, Toffoli, Pearson, King, Clifford, UFA forward, Doughty, Muzzin, Martinez, Quick)
If the UFA they sign this summer is a defenseman, they go the 8 skaters and a goalie route, and are forced to leave King and Clifford unprotected. (Kopitar, Carter, Toffoli, Pearson, Doughty, Muzzin, Martinez, UFA d-man, Quick)
If they acquire both forward and d-man UFAs this summer it gets a little dicier. It would probably mean going the 8 skaters and a goalie route, but having to choose between protecting Pearson and the UFA forward. That is a little bit scary because if Pearson is left unprotected, there is a very good chance he would be selected to play for Vegas. There is of course always the possibility that Lombardi flips a couple draft picks to the new squad to protect Pearson by other means. (Kopitar, Carter, Toffoli, Pearson/UFA forward, Doughty, Muzzin, Martinez, UFA d-man, Quick)
Who Do the Kings Lose to Vegas?
Dustin Brown. Yes, his contract is bad for the Kings, but for an expansion team he provides the kind of grit and leadership they'll be looking for. Plus, there is always the hope that in a new environment he will find his game again.
Or maybe I'm being really optimistic and Vegas will actually take Brayden McNabb or Matt Greene, but there should be plenty of good second pairing defensemen available so why would they take a third pairing project or over-the-hill vet when they could get a guy who's captained two Cup-winning teams? Hopefully it's Brown skating for Vegas when the Kings play them in Frozen Fury 2017.